Strengthening their resolve

In the midst of war, Ukrainian PROLAW grads remain committed to real change

On February 23, 2022, Iryna Ivankiv, PhD (LLM ’15), her husband, and their young son left the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, 19 miles from the Russian border, to stay with a relative in Rome. They got the last two seats available on the flight. The next morning, the family awoke to learn that Russia had invaded Ukraine—and Kharkiv was a major target in those first days of the full-scale invasion.

“If our son had been just a little older, we’d have had to buy him his own seat and we wouldn’t have been able to leave,” recalls Ivankiv, whose family is now living in Warsaw.

A few months before the war started, Ivankiv and two other Ukrainian alumni of Loyola’s Rule of Law for Development (PROLAW) program shared their PROLAW experiences and discussed their post-graduation careers. Now, a year and a half into the conflict, we spoke with the three to learn how they’re coping with life during wartime.

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A court that never closes

Every day, Kateryna Shyroka (LLM ’18), a trial judge on the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine (HACC), hears multiple cases—and many of the preceding nights are sleepless because of incoming Russian missiles. Powered by generators, the Kiev-based court has kept going without cease during the war, and has even increased the number and types of cases it hears.

In addition to civil and criminal cases—the latter required HACC to change its rules to allow remote criminal trials during wartime—HACC recently began handling administrative cases. This new case category includes financial sanctions for individuals who cannot demonstrate legal acquisition of their assets. Combined with fines levied in civil cases, these sanctions have already redirected about $35 million toward Ukraine’s military efforts.

When the war ends, Shyroka would like to focus on revising the country’s criminal legislation, which she says lacks sufficient mechanisms to enforce full accountability for the convicted. A judge since her mid-twenties, she will be able to retire soon, and she hopes to turn her next stage of life to helping Ukraine in strengthening the rule of law and combatting corruption as prerequisites of economic and democratic development.

“I wouldn’t call us heroes…well, if we’re heroes, we’re tired heroes.”

Meanwhile, though HACC’s work is exhausting and replete with risk, Shyroka and the other judges “do feel satisfaction,” she says.

“I wouldn’t call us heroes…well, if we’re heroes, we’re tired heroes,” she adds, smiling. “We’re administering justice without interruption in a dangerous situation, because we understand that we can help our army and our government with these cases.”

Protecting Ukrainian refugees

Of the 165,000 Ukrainians currently living in Slovakia, about 103,000 are temporary protection holders. For nearly a decade, Ganna Shvachka, PhD (LLM ’21), has worked for the legal protections and integration of the Ukrainian community in Slovakia—a task made even more vital since the Russian invasion.

Shvachka, who completed a PROLAW research fellowship in 2022, continues as head of international humanitarian aid projects for Ukraine-Slovakia SOS, under the patronage of the Slovak Republic’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. She also remains head of the civic, refugee-focused association SME SPOLU (meaning “We are together” in Slovak).

“We wouldn’t be as successful with these initiatives if I hadn’t studied project management in the PROLAW program.”

“SME SPOLU is now an implementing partner of two United Nations agencies, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR),” Shvachka says. Some of the group’s current projects are the Ukrainian School in Evacuation, educating Ukrainian children who have refugeed, and the Ukrainian and Slovak House, which provides social inclusion and psychological assistance to Ukrainians traumatized by war. Both are based in Bratislava.

“We wouldn’t be as successful with these initiatives if I hadn’t studied project management in the PROLAW program,” Shvachka says.

Based on her PROLAW research on refugee rights in other countries, she also contributed to an advocacy that helped formally submit the recommendation that the Slovakian government change its law banning refugees from being self-employed. “I want to keep making links from my PROLAW research to my current job,” she says.

An eye on interconnections

In Warsaw, Ivankiv is working for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. As project coordinator for her multi-country region, she helps her team monitor, protect, and train human rights defenders “who face challenges in conducting their work safely and securely, effectively advocating for and communicating about human rights, and taking full advantage of new technologies,” she says.

Much of Ivankiv’s past research has focused on the right to peace. With this war, “I see more evidence to my argument that the violation of the right to peace in one place has immense implications for all of humanity,” she says. “For instance, hunger in the global south is growing partly because Ukraine, normally one of the world’s largest grain supporters, isn’t able to export grain now. And we’ll see the environmental implications of this war—including toxic waste and contamination—for many years to come.”

“When Ukraine wins the war, I’d love to continue to work for my country, even if I don’t come back to Ukraine.”

Listening to Poles speak about how the Polish diaspora has historically been important to their homeland, Ivankiv sees a significant role for the millions of Ukrainians living abroad: They’re the face of their home country to much of the world, and, if they decide to stay in their new nations in large numbers, they’ll contribute substantively to those countries’ national characters, she says.

“When Ukraine wins the war, I’d love to continue to work for my country, even if I don’t come back to Ukraine,” Ivankiv says. “I’ve learned that you don’t have to be physically in the country to do a lot for it.” –Gail Mansfield (August 2023)

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PROLAW alumni

Strengthening the rule of law

Loyola PROLAW grads in Ukraine work to make real change

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Rule of Law for Development Program (PROLAW)

Rule of law underlies all political, economic, and social goods. To overcome today’s development challenges—violence, infringements of human rights, environmental destruction, poverty and hunger—rule of law is essential.

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